Period films are often challenging ordeals. Many factors come into play when transferring a fact based story to the big screen, from costumes, to historical accuracy, to the ever-present “will anyone pay to watch this” dilemma. The American Civil War stands among the pivotal moments in our nation’s history, so it stands as no surprise that there have been a plethora of flicks based on that time period made over the years, from the infamous Birth of a Nation in 1915, the legendary Gone with the Wind, and 2003’s Gods and Generals. It was 1989 when a powerful gem named Glory was released into theaters, chronicling the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all black regiment mustered in 1863. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie featured some serious star power in Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and a host of recognizable faces. Incorporating a triumphant score by James Horner, the film succeeds in painting a multi-layered picture of the trials and hurdles that had to be overcome by black and white troops in the Union Army following the Emancipation Proclamation passed into law by President Lincoln. The film carefully creates a vivid portrait of the main characters, with the simmering tensions of the war serving as a commanding backdrop. I remember getting misty-eyed in the theaters when I saw this film as a kid, and the message that it conveys holds true today. Definitely worth a watch.
In the vein of magnificent but severely under-recognized pictures that emerge from the bowels of Hollywood, here’s another iconic performance that was more than worthy of the industry’s top honor. A Soldier’s Story was based on a pulitzer prize winning play by Charles Fuller, about the investigation into the death of a black sergeant in the WWII era south. The film’s antagonist was Sergeant Waters, splendidly played by the late Adolph Caesar; he was in fact nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for the role, but lost out to Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields). At any rate, his hauntingly conflicted role of the gruff, abrasive Sergeant Waters is indeed one for the record books, in one of cinema’s finest masterpieces.